The world will turn its eyes to Brazil this Summer as 32 countries square off in the FIFA World Cup, the quadrennial tournament that is held to determine the world's best footballing country. There are favorites, underdogs, superstars, and rising stars, and gamers around the world can now play as all of those countries, even the ones that didn't make the tournament, in 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil (FWC14). The franchise that focuses solely on the national teams has been active since 1994, when the beautiful game came to the United States for the first time and truly marked the start of this country's push towards becoming a force in association football. Since then, EA Sports has worked to bring the spectacle of the World Cup alive, using the familiar engine that pushes the FIFA franchise. Is it a contender to hoist the World Cup Trophy? Let's find that out.
FWC14 has familiar game modes to those who have played the past versions, including the popular Captain Your Country mode, allowing gamers to take on the role of their favorite professional footballer, or to create their own and improve enough to become their country's top player and worthy of donning the captain's armband. CYC starts the player off at the beginning of the qualification process, which actually gets going in 2011, so a gamer has roughly three years to build their player up via training and matches to make sure that they avoid the cut, which happens after a set amount of matches played as determined by the game. In most cases, a player has six matches and six training sessions to improve enough to survive a cut. If their rank is high enough, they'll move on to the next round of cuts, and so on until they get to the final 23 players set to go to Brazil, assuming that qualification is a success. This isn't like FIFA 14 where the international games are more of a sideshow to the season and tournaments going on. This is about international pride and glory. Failure to acquire enough points in the player's respective region will result in the game mode simply coming to an end. Captain Your Country is probably the most fun mode in the game, as there is no real management that needs to be done. The focus is simply on one player and trying to take them all the way to the World Cup.
Road to the World Cup is the longest and deepest mode available in the game. A player will pick a country and attempt to take them from the start of qualification all the way to the World Cup Trophy that awaits the winner of the final at Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro. Some regions are harder than others, and the difficulty level is easily ramped up by taking a team that is extremely low ranked and trying to build them up, such as picking Confederations Cup darlings Tahiti from the Oceania region or taking one of the smallest countries in the world in the form of San Marino, Cyprus, or the Faroe Islands, and trying to go through the juggernaut that is UEFA. Teams are ranked by their current FIFA standings and the typical five-star rating, so there is a team for everyone based on style and strength. Everyone can choose a powerhouse such as Spain, Germany, Brazil, France, Italy, or England. Others can go for personal glory here in the USA and choose the US Men's National Team. Those who want a challenge will want to check out some of the teams mentioned earlier. As an example, Faroe Islands has an overall rating below 50, while the powerhouses are all above 80. Good luck!
The most underrated game mode is the Story of Qualifying, which is essentially telling the full story of a team's road to Brazil. There are over 60 scenarios taken directly from the entire qualification, and more can be unlocked as EA Points are earned, including the storyline of several national teams, starting with their first match and going all the way to their clinching match. The scenarios vary in length, such as replaying the USA's last ten minutes against Jamaica on the road to recover and earn a victory. This is a nice change up from the overall grind of qualification, and the harder the difficulty chosen for the game modes, the more points are earned for further use in the EA Clubs Catalog.
The last game mode is Road to Rio de Janerio, an online competition where players select their favorite country and battle against other players online. Unfortunately, time constraints did not permit any experience with this mode.
Gameplay and Presentation
FIFA 14 veterans will recognize the gameplay right off the bat. Mechanics are very similar to the 360 and PS3 versions, though there are new controls for dribbles and flick-ons to give better control. New tactics have been included for set pieces and corner kicks. However, the gameplay remains pretty unchanged, which makes the transition to this title from FIFA 14 pretty easy to handle. This is also somewhat frustrating, as the same issues with AI passing exist and, in some cases, are worse this time around. Ratings of players somewhat dictate this, but the AI almost seems a little dumbed down and is afraid to push the envelope for AI-controlled players. Through passes aren't nearly as plentiful because of it and takes away from some of the experience, even with the top teams. There are also the same frustrating experiences with AI-controlled set pieces in Captain Your Country mode, whereas the corner taker will inexplicably call for another kicker and then boot the ball back to midfield. There's no reason for this to still be in the game, and becomes frustrating to deal with as this is now the third different version of this engine that has suffered from this problem. It needs to be fixed for FIFA 15.
Skill moves are still pulled off without a hitch, though the lower ranked players still have a slow and somewhat treacherous time pulling off the simpler moves. It makes an uphill climb even more difficult with the worst teams in the game. It isn't a surprise, but it can make a challenge almost impossible, especially since only marginal stat points can be gained in each training and limited to just four players at a time.
The presentation both in-game and in the menus rates as very good, but not without some flaws. Outside of the game, players can choose a couple of different options when it comes to their background chatter, such as listening to extremely random but humorous Men in Blazers, who provide a lighter side of commentary while covering qualification. In-game, the commentary is handed off to Clive Tyldsley, Andy Townsend, and Jeff Schreeves, all of whom are familiar names from FIFA 14 on the international side of matches. The comradery of the games are captured in pregame build up with fanfare, crowd shots, and even videos that are taken from back inside the countries who are playing. Larger nations get a little more of a unique experience, such as seeing the Capital Building in Washington, DC, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and a backdrop of London for England. These images help capture the spirit of the game, but the experience takes a small nosedive with an absolutely dreadful replay system. Big plays are almost guaranteed to be missed by the first two angles shown as the cameras attempt to catch up to the play itself. Eventually, one replay will get it right, but seeing random scans of the field and missing out on a bicycle kick for a winner really takes away from the quality of the game.
One real let-down is that this game is only for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, completely missing out on the next-gen consoles where this game could have truly shined. There's nothing wrong with having to go back to either of these systems, but we're now six months deep into a new generation and developer kits have been available for much longer than that, with FIFA 14 being the best example as the availability of the title. Development teams have to make decisions early on, but it would have made too much sense to capture the spirit of the World Cup on the next-gen consoles instead of settling for what is now being labeled as the past generation.
The bottom line about FWC14 is this: The game is enjoyable. There are some flaws, but the pageantry and excitement of the beautiful game are all captured fairly well. It's still upsetting that this game did not make the jump to the next-gen, even though it doesn't feel dated. The gameplay mechanics remain fairly in tact and done well enough, but the same AI issues that hurt the 360 and PS3 versions of FIFA 14 are not only still there, but almost seem to be magnified. Also, there is the argument that this game may not be worthy of a full priced title as it is still fairly limited with replay value due to the game ending with the tournament, though everyone knows that is the case with this title. The game modes keep the game as fresh as it can be, but it isn't nearly as polished as it's predecessor. FWC14 makes it to Brazil, but falls short of hoisting the trophy.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
I've been writing about games and entertainment since 2006 after starting out at Xbox Ohio. Since then, I have made the jump to Gaming Nexus and have enjoyed my time here. I am an avid gamer that has a solid old school game collection that includes the likes of Final Fantasy games, Earthbound, Gitaroo-Man, MvC2, and a whole slew of others. I have a primary focus on Xbox 360 games and PC peripherals and accessories. If you ever want to game against me, you can look me up on XBL with the gamertag GN Punk.